Do your dogs ever misread each other?

Something I’ve been musing about lately: Dogs who misinterpret other dogs’ body language.

There’s so much talk about dog body language and calming signals that I think it’s easy for me to forget that sometimes dogs can actually misread each other. In general, yes, dogs are excellent at reading other dogs’ body language and what postures, looks, ears, tails, and mouths communicate. But sometimes, I’ve found, dogs can get each other wrong.

Snow dog yoga. #snowday #germanshepherds #charlottesville
Edie thinks, “This looks like an invitation to play to me!”

There are a few examples I’ve seen in our household.

1: As in the photo above, Pyrrha is doing her morning stretches, but Eden thinks they are play bows. It’s easy to see how Eden could think the stretches are invitations to play; both postures have a very similar shape. But in the photo above, I can tell that Pyrrha isn’t asking Eden to play. She’s just stretching out after being in her crate; she’s not facing Eden or engaging with her directly.

2: Pyrrha kicks up dirt after she urinates or defecates, and Eden thinks this is an aggressive challenge. This is kind of a weird one, because I haven’t walked dogs who reacted this way before. Pyrrha occasionally kicks up dirt and grass after she pees, like a terrier, and Eden almost always reads this as if Pyrrha were a bull rooting up the ground in preparation for a tussle. Edie gets anxious when Pyrrha does this, and often barks at her, as if to say, “I’m watching you! I’m ready to rumble!” They don’t fight, because clearly, Pyrrha has no aggressive intentions, and so Eden then figures out, a second later, that she misinterpreted the situation. But it makes me grin every time.

Christmas 2013
Are you a dog? I can’t tell!

3: Pyrrha meets a dog whose eyes are concealed and thinks this dog is suspicious and possibly aggressive. Even if the dog is fairly relaxed (like Adelaide, pictured above), Pyrrha cannot seem to read the rest of her body language and is only concerned about the lack of eye contact. To be fair to Pyrrha, Adelaide is very disadvantaged in the canine communication department. She has no tail; fur covers her eyes; her ears are drooped; and she is all black. It is difficult to discern that she is, indeed, a dog!

With Pyrrha’s reactivity to other dogs on leash, she is somewhat selective about the dogs she reacts to. If she meets wiggly, friendly puppies, she is unlikely to have an outburst. But if she walks past a dog who is very still or watching her (or, God forbid, barking), all bets are off. Even if this latter set of dogs are not really aggressive or protective, Pyrrha can’t take even the slightest hint of tension in body language — and erupts.

As with Adelaide, I feel like this misinterpretation often happens with dogs who have diminished normal canine body parts, e.g., docked ears or docked tails. A dog who doesn’t have a tail can have a much harder time communicating with other dogs, and likewise, other dogs can have a much harder time reading them. My childhood Aussie, for example, was often read as an aggressive dog by other dogs, because she lacked a tail. Similarly, dogs with very heavy, droopy ears can’t communicate much with them, and dogs with rigid, cropped ears may come across as being more aggressive than they actually feel.

Either way, it can be amusing and interesting to observe dogs mistaking body language signals from one another. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen too often with your dogs, but it is interesting to note when it does.

Have you ever seen this? Do your dogs ever misread each other or other dogs?


Dog fight, or, always trust your gut instinct

So. Reasons for the bit of silence here lately: Had a really rough weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, Rainer got in a fight with a potential adopter’s German shepherd, which landed my husband, this dog, and this dog’s human in the ER. The good news is that everyone is physically OK (although still kind of emotionally shaken); the woman and her dog required stitches, and my husband a tetanus shot and a lot of pain meds, but we will be OK. Rainer was uninjured.

I learned a lot of things this weekend, after this very traumatic incident, but the main thing I learned was this: Always trust your gut instinct.

When this dog was walking down our driveway to meet us, I brought Rainer out on leash to greet them. The dog immediately lowered his head and stared straight at Rainer. One of those cold, hard stares that is instantly unnerving. His human said not to worry about it, that he did this with other dogs… and so I did the thing that my gut was telling me NO, NO, NO, DON’T: I let Rainer walk forward to meet him.

In a split second, Rainer had the dog by the throat down on the ground and he was not letting go. The fight was completely silent, which made it all the more terrifying. Rainer was not trying to scare this dog off; Rainer was trying to kill this dog. In the madness, the woman and Guion got bit; I was kicking Rainer as hard as I could to get him off. Finally, after a third or fourth kick, Rainer loosens his grip and I am able to drag him off. The other dog’s ear was ripped a bit at the base and he had a puncture wound in his ear. The fight felt like it lasted for hours, and even though it was over in two or three minutes, it was a horrible, horrible span of time.

Rainer has to be quarantined for 10 days, according to Animal Control’s rules, and they are going to let us quarantine him here. The only complicating factor is that we’re supposed to go out of town for a full week on Friday, so the rescue is going to arrange a boarding situation for him.

In the future? I’m going to listen to my gut. I’m going to say, “Nope. They shouldn’t meet. I’m sorry,” and walk away. Even though that feels so rude to me. Dogs give us really clear signs with their body language, and we were stupid enough to ignore these signs on Saturday. Sigh. Lesson learned, the really hard way.

The bit of bright news in all of this is that Rainer has another adopter interested in him, a young couple with no children and no pets who can give him the care and attention he needs. I explained Saturday’s incident to them on the phone, as well as some of his other issues we’ve noticed, but they sound well-equipped to care for Rainer and give him a secure, loving place. Hope that it will work out. I will keep you posted!

Whew. I feel REALLY ready for this beach week…

Pyrrha handles a big party at our house


(I don’t have any photos, unfortunately, because being a hostess precludes one from being very active with a camera…)

Last night, we had about 25 people over to our house to celebrate Guion’s birthday. This was our first big party at our new house, and it was definitely the most people we’d ever had over in Pyrrha’s presence.

We have lots of visitors and weekend house guests, so Pyrrha is used to having strangers show up, but we’ve never had this many people descend at once. My initial plan was to keep her inside, especially if some of our friends brought their toddlers. (*Pyrrha has done well with children above the age of 5, but younger kids tend to make her pretty nervous. For the safety of all involved, I thought I’d keep her in the house.) However, no kids showed up, so I decided to let her go in the fenced yard with all of our guests.

At first, it was clear she was overwhelmed by all of these people. Thankfully, however, we have low-key friends (and a lot of dog lovers among them). Most people tended to leave her alone, or greet her calmly, which helped her a lot in warming up. After 10 minutes or so, Pyrrha started to chill out and kiss up to everyone. She started going around the circle of chairs and greeting each person (and then trying to lick their plates).

Tangent on shy dogs preferring women over men:

Throughout last night, it was clear that Pyrrha warmed up to women much faster than men. I think this may be generally true of shy dogs. One of our guests asked me why this was, whether she liked the smell of women more than men, etc.

My best theory is that there is a marked difference in male and female body language and in the way that men and women greet dogs. This is gender stereotyping, but in my experience, men tend to greet dogs more gregariously: Rougher pats on the head, grabbing toward the face, leaning over the dog, trying to incite them to rough-house, etc. Men also have deeper voice registers. In contrast, women tend to greet dogs in a slower, gentler manner: Holding out a hand for the dog to sniff, crouching down, speaking in a soft and high-pitched tone.

Some of Guion’s guy friends have teased him about the way he calls Pyrrha and greets her. He’s started mimicking my higher-pitched voice and slow, bending movements. It’s pretty adorable. “Oh, Guion, get out your ‘Pyrrha voice’!” They happily mocked him. And he does. In his defense, I heard him retort, “This is the way Abby calls her, and she loves Abby, so I thought I should try it!” It’s pretty cute, but she also responds to it! Acting like a lady may just get a shy dog to warm up to you faster…

Anyway. Have a nice weekend, all! Stay cool!

Pup links!

“A Woman with Dog under a Tree,” Picasso. See the Afghan hound?

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

12 Simple Rules for Dining Out with Your Dog. Pamela’s great list of tips for those who want to dine out with the pooch. We’ve taken Pyrrha out to eat with us twice now, and she’s done very well, but I think that was purely out of luck. We could certainly use these bits of advice and work on training her in that environment. (Something Wagging This Way Comes)

Ready to eat. Bowdu sings for his supper! This is adorable. Now only if I can get Princess Pyrrha to act with similar enthusiasm at meal-time… (The House of Two Bows)

Chix-A-Lot Friday: How Play Changed My Life. A great post from Chix about how lots of play and lots of exercise transformed his behavior. A good reminder. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Sometimes Dogs Aren’t Sad. Karen London points out that we often misinterpret dogs’ body language as indicating that they are “sad,” when in fact, they’re just calm or checking everything out. (The Bark blog)

The Adventures of Jack and Samantha. A guest post from two hiking greyhounds on Tinkerwolf. Beautiful photos and beautiful dogs. (Tinkerwolf)

The Responsibility of Rescues/Shelters. Tena reflects on the duty that rescues have to make sure that dogs are going to homes that are well-suited for them, e.g., don’t send a young Jack Russell terrier to an elderly couple. What do you think about this? Do you think the majority of rescues do an adequate job of matching dogs with compatible homes? (Success Just Clicks)

Which Type of Player Would Your Dog Be? Do you love or hate dog parks? I’m on the fence about them; I know we won’t be taking Pyrrha to any dog parks anytime soon. Maybe one day. How do you feel about them? (Dog Obedience Training Blog)

Rescue Me. My husband’s cousin is a great blogger and mom to sweet Jack, who is on the autism spectrum. Here, she reflects on their dog Mason and how much he’s meant to their family and to Jack. Really touching. (Reinventing Mommy)

To Be What They Are. I loved this post by Louise, about letting our dogs just BE what they are, permitting that expression of their lovely personality, however strange or exhausting it might be. Such a great exhortation for us as we raise our dogs. (Raising Ivy)

20 Most Adorable Animal Lists of All Time. It’s time to laugh now. Some of my favorite lists in this well-curated collection: 50 Corgis Super-Psyched about Halloween and, of course, 50 Photos of Basset Hounds Running. (Best Week Ever)

Pup links!

Those ears! German shepherd pup on the beach. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

People and Their Pets. I love this sweet and moving photo series by Stepan Obruchkov; I’ve pinned a lot of his images on my Dogs board on Pinterest. (Wolf Eyebrows)

To Pet or NOT to Pet. This is a really helpful and illustrative re-post about reading dogs’ body language; it would be great to show these photos to classrooms, particularly. But, actually, the more I think about it, the more I think your average person could benefit from discerning between these images. I’m constantly amazed at how poor we are at reading dogs’ body language and how many myths still persist about what dogs are trying to tell us. Great post. (Success Just Clicks)

Therapy Dogs Helping Seniors Live Longer. A feature on an assisted living facility in our area that welcomes therapy dogs; apparently it’s one of the only ones in our region that does. (Dog Days/Grouchy Puppy)

Puppy Breath, Take Me Away. Tales and Tails visits a socialization day for a new litter of fuzzy, heartbreakingly cute German shepherd puppies. Just because we can all use more puppy pictures on a daily basis. (Tales and Tails)

Green paws? The malinois is really getting into gardening these days. I just loved these photos; he looks like he is having such a good time. (Exercise Finished)

Pup Links!

Dachshund carefully helps adjust bathing cap. Via Wanderlusted, from the Life magazine archives.

Interesting dog-related things I’ve dug up on the Interwebs this week…

What Your Dog Doesn’t Tell You. Cute but helpful drawings about how NOT to greet a dog and how to read dog body language. (News for a Dog Day Afternoon)

Top 15 Exercises for You and Your Dog. Yet another reason to get a dog: They’re good for your health! This is a great collection of articles from around the Web about how you and your dogs can keep each other healthy. (Fido Friendly)

Celebrities and Dogs. A great collection of photos from the Life magazine archives. (Wanderlusted)

Dogs + Fonts. Assigning different breeds to different typefaces. (Pawsh)